Social media marketing: Getting past the initial hurdles
Agencies shouldn't have their heads in the sand when it comes to new ways of marketing
By Heather Lockwood
More people than ever are connecting via social media sources. But between Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites, it may be difficult to know how to break into this space to reach your target audience.
If you've been thinking about marketing via social media, but you haven't gotten started, you might ask yourself about the "buts" that might be holding your agency back.
The need for marketing has not changed, but the space has. Social media is not a fad. Going forward, it will be essential for businesses to operate within the social media space to get recognized.
According to the Social Media Marketing Industry Report 2010, even with a minimal time investment (one to four hours a week), the vast majority of marketers (78% or higher) indicated their social media efforts increased exposure for their business. From that perspective, the "why" of social media is a no-brainer.
Once you have decided to try your hand in social media marketing, you may have questions about how to get your accounts set up. Many of the sites have FAQs and actually walk you through a series of screens in which you fill out information and at the end, you are officially set up. If it still seems tricky, chances are someone in your office, your neighborhood, or even your kids are already using these sites. Don't be shy about asking for help to get yours set up.
Once you are set up, start by inviting people to be your friend on Facebook. This is easily done by searching the site for people you know, searching your personal e-mail address books and entering addresses of the people you want to reach. Once people friend you, the floor is yours.
Some things to remember:
1. Post things on your page that people will find interesting and say something about your agency and what you provide without hard selling.
2. Ask people to "like" and "share" your content on their pages.
3. Twitter is great if you want a quick message to tell your followers about a new product you offer, that rates have just been lowered, that they may qualify for a new discount or that they could save money by bundling all of their products with one carrier.
4. Ask your followers to retweet your information to get it out to a broader base. Thank tweeters for the retweets.
5. Be patient. It takes time to build relationships and gain trust online just as it does when a potential customer calls or comes into your office. Taking the time to nurture the online relationships will pay off.
One of the biggest drawbacks that many businesses imagine with social media marketing comes down to resources. How will you keep up with posts and comments? How will you continue to provide informative, relevant content? Do you really want your employees on Facebook all day? Do you need a social media communications team to do this correctly?
The reality is, it takes only a couple of people a few minutes each day to create a robust social media presence that helps reach more customers, provides a place for instant feedback and real communication, and gives you the opportunity to create a personality for your business that speaks directly to your target market.
Here are a few tips:
1. Empower a couple of people to be the voice of your agency. Employees who are given this responsibility will take it seriously and likely will not abuse their privileges. Give them a schedule of when to check your pages each day and for how long, and provide them with appropriate responses and tactics to deal with negative comments.
2. Check sites a few times a day, at about the same time, and provide comments and feedback to any recent posts. A good rule of thumb is to check first thing in the morning, around lunch time, and once in the afternoon. Each touch should take only a few minutes, and your designated staff should easily be able to monitor recent activity. If you start out with two people checking your pages and responding for just 15 minutes three times a day during the week, you will log seven-and-a-half hours updating your site. It's a minimal time investment for what you could get out of it.
3. Find ready-to-use content. Rather than having a team of writers creating content full-time for your pages, sign up for alerts and newsletters related to topics that you are interested in that you can just link people to or tweet.
4. Measure your results. Social media sites make it so easy to see if your efforts are paying off. If you have more fans, people like your posts and there is growing interaction, you are doing things right.
5. Don't get discouraged. It takes time to build a fan base and to see the positive effects of social media marketing, but stick with it. The more opportunities you have for people to like and share your content, the more reputable and relevant your page will become to your fans.
It is worth your time to experiment with the social media space. You can do it slowly and ramp up as you get more comfortable. So what are you waiting for? There's never been a better time to venture out into the social media space. With a minimal time investment and a little practice, you can have your social media strategy reaching more customers in no time.
Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit ForemostAgent.com.